Shell passed another regulatory hurdle today in its quest to drill exploratory wells in the Arctic Ocean this summer. The federal government approved the company’s spill response plan for the Beaufort Sea. Shell wants to drill several wells in both the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas beginning in July. They already received approval for their Chukchi spill response plan. Pete Slaiby, Vice President of Shell Alaska says it wasn’t the final hurdle for the company, but it was a big milestone.
“Were excited this is a potentially a pretty big event for Alaska. It will mean jobs and I think we’re looking at the summer probably over 1200 jobs,” Slaiby said.
Slaiby says the company is busy getting ready for the summer drilling season. Pending final approval, they will be allowed to transit through the Bering Strait after July 1. But Slaiby says there is more ice than usual in the Arctic Ocean right now and that could delay the operation.
“We’re obviously not going to go in and see a large amount of ice and would have to break ice to go in and do this. We want to see ice pretty well clear out of the way before we would start operations. So if we’ve got information or we see that it’s not clearing that may indeed impact when we would finally do our sail away,” he said.
Environmental groups are criticizing the federal government’s decision. They say Shell hasn’t proven it has the technology or resources to clean up a potential oil spill in Arctic waters.
Chris Krenz is Arctic project manager for Oceana. He says the spill response plan that was approved Wednesday is inadequate.
“These paper plans that get approved don’t match reality. In the Deepwater Horizon, they had plans in place they said would be able to contain and clean up the size of spill that they had and they didn’t come close to doing that,” Krenz said.
Krenz says big oil companies have had spills all over the world. And there’s no reason to think a spill wouldn’t happen in the Arctic.